P 36

African Megachurches, Network Christianity, and Politics

Panel abstract
The panel offers close-up looks into the conceptualizations of politics, strategic networks, and forms of political mobilization of African ‘megachurches’, founded by self-styled ‘charismatic heroes’ from around the late 1970s. Forming part of charismatic/Pentecostal sections of African Christianity, megachurches do not just claim to transform religious landscapes; meanwhile they position themselves as potent political players. Megachurches have gained relevance within diverse sub-Saharan political cultures, notably through their closeness to political elites. A peculiar feature of megachurches is their network structure. Megachurch networks stretch over diverse local, regional, and global co-operations within like-minded milieus, including migrant communities. These networks of churches, institutions, and movements also generate similar taxonomies of politics. Popular variants are related for instance to concepts of ‘spiritual warfare’ or ‘dominionist’ theologies to ‘conquer a nation for Christ`. Such political theologies are transmitted, adapted, and reframed within network discourses, often assuming an ideo-theological American hegemony. Networks of megachurches also exchange and disseminate transcultural strategies to impact a given political culture. However, little is known on these travelling concepts of society, negotiated within African megachurches.
Central questions are: What kind of political visionaries do megachurches and their respective networks create, and how do they negotiate and adapt them in differing socio-political contexts? Through which kind(s) of network structures do megachurches create (political) legitimacy and where do strategic models to shape politics originate? Finally: what are the limits of their political imaginations and ways of mobilization?

Time: Friday, 29/06/2018, 8.30 - 10.30 am
Venue: Hörsaalgebäude, HS 8

Convenor
Andreas Heuser (University of Basel, Switzerland)

Panellists
Aidan Kwame Ahaligah (University of Leeds, UK)
Judith Bachmann (University of Heidelberg)
Esther Berg-Chan (Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology, Frankfurt am Main)
Michael P.K. Okyerefo (University of Ghana, Accra)

Discussant
Asonzeh Ukah (University of Cape Town, South Africa)
 

Paper abstracts

Aidan Kwame Ahaligah
The Prophetic Ministry of Dr. Prophet Owuor in Kenya’s Contemporary Public Sphere

Based on recent (2015) ethnographic fieldwork on Pentecostalism and the politics of spiritual warfare in Kenya, the paper examines the rise of the ministry of a self-styled prophet, Dr David Owuor of the ‘National Repentance and Holiness Ministries’. Also referred to as ‘The Mighty Prophet of God’, with prophetic messages premised solely on holiness and repentance, Owuor has in the spate of less than a decade garnered a mass and loyal following and has become arguably Kenya’s most revered (and also controversial) prophet par excellence. Instead of mega cathedrals as is common among Africa’s neo-Pentecostal superstars, Owuor builds mega tents and prefers to use altars instead of a church. I explore what I term the holiness-spiritual warfare paradigm of his ministry against the backdrop of prosperity-spiritual warfare-oriented neo-Pentecostal churches in Kenya. I will also show how Owuor attempts to position himself and his ministry as the spiritio- political power broker in Kenya’s contemporary public sphere by attempting to redirect Kenya’s neo-Pentecostal moral economy away from prosperity gospel to the ‘holiness and repentance gospel’. I conclude with an examination of the religio-political implications of the holiness and repentance gospel in Kenya’s contemporary ‘religious-scapes of prosperity’ (Heuser, 2015) and how such a mass movement, with no known local or international networks, attempts to be an antithesis to church and politics in Kenya.

Judith Bachmann
Negotiating Nigerian Megachurches’ Status: What Does It Mean to Be Powerful?

Pentecostal megachurches have become important power players in Nigeria in recent years. Not only did presidents of the past kneel down for pastors of such churches to bless them, but now members of megachurches have also become prominent agents of the Nigerian government. Their radio and TV programmes are listened to and viewed by many, not just members. Their public programmes are well attended and regularly lead to road blockages. Many megachurches also own highly regarded universities with highly coveted study courses – even among non-Pentecostals and non-Christians. However, their status is not undebated in Nigeria. Intellectuals and the media often highlight megachurches’ alleged malpractices (corruption, sexual abuse, etc.) and identify their members as ‘blindfolded’. This paper will focus on the internal Christian debate about Pentecostal megachurches in the Southwest and the different strategies to oppose or align themselves with them; as among other Christians, they are well-sought allies and stiff opponents at the same time. These strategies often focus on the topic of ‘spiritual power’, implying that either megachurches participate in occult power to gain followers or that their power is deficient and that they cannot even really heal. Nigerian Christians thus negotiate the factors that constitute power in order to establish their own status.

Esther Berg-Chan
‘Transforming Nations for Christ’: Megachurches, Global Christian Networks, and ‘Theologies of Transformation’ in Africa and Asia

Since the 1990s, we are witnessing a growing number of neo-Pentecostal or neo-Charismatic actors and groups within translocative Christian networks calling for an active engagement or indeed ‘transformation’ of their societies according to Christian ideals and values through new forms of cultural and/or socio-political engagement. Such initiatives are inspired by particular ‘theologies of transformation’ that often present themselves as creative adaptations combining discourses and practices from the global fields of ‘spiritual warfare’, ‘prosperity gospels’, and ‘kingdom/dominion theologies’. Focusing on two megachurch pastors, Kong Hee (b.1964) from Singapore and the Nigerian-born Sunday Adelaja (b.1967), as well as their respective intersecting networks, this presentation will take a closer look at two such ‘theologies of transformation’ and concrete ‘projects of transformation’ that stem from them. By focusing on two actors active in Asia and Africa respectively, this presentation seeks to raise awareness for the polycentric nature of and multidirectional flows within contemporary global Christian networks as well as for the glocal dynamics at play. In their adaption of mediated discourses and practices made available through transregional/global processes of exchange, megachurch actors like Kong Hee and Sunday Adelaja participate in and perpetuate global connections. The way, however, in which such discourses and practices are adapted, changed, or rejected by particular actors within a particular locale always also reflects the particularities of their respective local contexts.

Michael P.K. Okyerefo
Scrambling for the Centre: Ghanaian Churches’ Vying for Political Influence

The effort expended by religious groups in Ghana to access and influence political power is not a historical novelty. Most clearly manifest in organizational strategies and the pronouncements of religious leaders, sectional ambitions in respect of political access and influence have nevertheless recently gained ascendancy in response to the relatively rapid and large-scale growth of religious diversity across the nation and within its growing conurbations. This scramble for access and influence has also been fuelled by the overt participation of some political leaders in religious activities which are perceived to grant certain groups an enviable presence in the public sphere and favoured access to the corridors of state power. Focusing upon Pentecostal-Charismatic organizations as working examples, this paper explores the strategies and motivations of religious groups striving to access and influence political society in an increasingly diverse socio-cultural context.